Friday, December 23, 2005

See You in 2006

This week has blind-sided me, and I'm about to join all of my blogger colleagues out there who are taking a brief sabbatical. I'll resurface the first week of January, well-rested and ready to dig into our pre-production phase. (There are some benefits of working for a summer festival company, and a full week of winter vacation is one of them!)

In Case You Haven't Heard...

This sound clip has made the rounds, but you might've missed it: Cure for the "Messiah" Blues. Thanks to Drew McManus of Adaptistration for archiving it.

The jury's out as to whether this was a truly unfortunately and honest-to-god live performance or it was a scripted practical joke. Nevertheless, it makes me smile. I've played those nasty electronic organs where there's a scary "transpose" button right next to the general pistons. (Imagine playing a keyboard where your hands look like they're in D Major but the music emanating is in Db...) This sort of accident is entirely possible :)

Meme of Four

This conversation starter has been making the rounds of blogdom in the last week. I'd hop on board, but I'm too tired to think this hard, and somehow it seems a little more personal than I'd like to be in this forum. (Stick with me, and maybe by summer I'll lighten up:)

Anyway, use the Meme of Four to learn more about your friends and family this week.

  • Four jobs you've had in your life
  • Four movies you could watch over and over
  • Four places you've lived
  • Four TV shows you love to watch
  • Four places you've been on vacation
  • Four websites you visit daily
  • Four of your favorite foods
  • Four places you'd rather be

Light Reading

If you're passing some time surfing the internet and you're not yet acquainted with our previous blogging incarnations, give them a visit: Audition Tour Fall 2004 & Summer Season 2005.

Step Away from the Keyboard

But, as I tell my son daily, you really shouldn't be spending this much time on the internet anyway. Here's to wishing you good health, much laughter, and great music in this holiday season and in the new year - see you in '06!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Back into the Fray

But First,

Toys for Tots
collection at work.

For the Record

A few responses to some of the challenges posed to my previous postings on the Juilliard master class event:

I acknowledge that the star artist behavior in most master classes is neither brutally inhuman nor more abusive in general than much of the rest of our lives.

If performers are not able to develop a bit of a thick-skinned approach to all sorts of criticism, they will either not last long in this business or they will have particularly tortured careers.

There are many paths in life that are far more difficult and ultimately less rewarding than a career in the arts.

If I'm having a bad day, one of the first places I go on my iPod is Barbara Cook singing "In Buddy's Eyes".

Now, to proceed.

Once again, there's an equation. Emotions, frustrations, and all defenses aside; the net result of a master class experience should simply register on the positive side of the ledger. The lessons learned and insights gained may come at a price. They usually do. But the costs should be in proportion to the benefits.

What are these costs? Well, as an administrator, the real expenses are never far from my mind. I'm not just referring to dollars, but to the human resources that go into preparing for and managing an event like this. As a coach and teacher, I'm aware that time and energy are always at a premium and should not be misused. And, as a performer, I resent public performances (and indeed, that's what these singers are doing in master classes) that sap rather than feed me.

The audience generally has a very good time at these kinds of events. Actually, the audience's ability to get a glimpse inside our process is often the solitary benefit of a master class. They come away with a new and stronger connection to the music and to the mind of a performing artist. And this audience benefit is important on many levels.

If we were to be honest and put our singers up there with the knowledge that they're acting out a script for the benefit of the public, that's one thing. Give them a role to play, and send them home with a paycheck for doing their part for the visibility of the institution and the adoring public of the artist. But to expect them to take risks and to make a huge investment in the outcome is wrong.

More Participant Reactions

But first, to put these singers in perspective: They are not wringing their hands or giving up their careers. They're tougher and more realistic than that. But their feedback is important.

“I was nodding but in truth I had absolutely no idea what she actually wanted me to do. So I just tried one thing after another, randomly, and I was just more and more confused.”

“I didn’t even get a chance to do anything before I was being judged. It offended me.”

"I came onstage with a real connection to my song. But from the minute I had to sit in that chair and hold some guy’s hand, I was just faking it, anything to get through the next twenty horrible minutes. I felt nothing, and I gave nothing.”

“Oh, you just humor her, play along. Whatever it takes. In real life, I am never going to go onstage without a mike in a 950-seat house and not sing out, so the whole thing was meaningless from the get-go. You want me to mutter, I’ll mutter.”

“I learned two things. One: I can sing while I am crying. Two: I shall never sing musical theater again in my life.”

A Voice of Experience

Until now, you've heard from me (more than enough, I'm sure) and from some of the Juilliard students. I'm a grownup (or as much of a grownup as I'm ever going to be), and the performers' responses are thought by some readers to be tainted by their youth and inexperience. I don't agree, but bear with me here.

I'm indebted to Steve Blier for allowing me to post his reactions to this event. Steve needs no introduction to those of us who work with and love song. But if you don't know his work, here's an introduction.

Steve works with these and other professional singers on a daily basis. He suffers no fools, as they say. And he was extremely disturbed by the master class.

"We knew it was a sham when the following happened. Alex Mansoori got up and gave a deeply touching, modest, and heartfelt performance of an Ahrens and Flaherty song. He knew exactly how much pressure the song could take, and he didn’t push it too hard. The audience was rapt, and many of us were in tears. Barbara waits for a moment and then says, “Honestly, I don’t know where to start. You don’t know how to use language, you sing it like ‘Nessun dorma,’ and…who wrote this song anyway?” I instantly felt slightly sick to my stomach. (I later heard this same reaction from more than a dozen people.) From then on, the students could see that they were pawns in a theater game where they were at a complete disadvantage.

Cook really tipped her hand when she went to get the repertoire notebook Juilliard had prepared for her a month before. It was clear she hadn't opened the book at all--the music was still clipped together, and she seemed completely unable to remove the paper clips. We all could see that she hadn't felt it necessary to prepare for the class in any way, though she seemed very maladroit coaching material she didn't know. So she rips the first song out and says, "All right. Your lyrics say, 'Take the moment, make it happen, hold moment, make it last...'" Embarrassed silence. "Um, no, Miss Cook. Those are the lyrics to the other song I brought." It made us wonder: had she even listened to Alex before she went into her pre-packaged rap?

The most distasteful thing about the whole afternoon was Barbara’s pandering to the audience. “Isn’t that better?” “Oh, YES!” comes the Pavlovian response from the fans.

As one student said to me, “it’s always better the second time.” The modus operandi seemed to be: make the student uptight, confuse ’em, rile ’em up, then sit them down in a chair, take them off their voice, maybe remove some clothing, and claim credit for a transformation.

[Sidebar from Kim: The "always better the second time" trick is almost foolproof. The resident expert has to do almost nothing in order for the audience to register a noticeable improvement when the performer has a chance to ground himself, relax, and sing something a second time.]

On the real work of helping opera singers find their voice in the song repertoire:

Yes, some opera singers are a bit stiff and obsessed with volume, but others are amazingly versatile. To educate them, you need to share the real secrets: how to phrase, how to bend a line or a word, how to use rhythm, how to find an interpretation that releases your life-force into the spaces of a theater. It is completely counterintuitive for an operatically trained singer to put out more “emotion” while you cut off access to his musical energy.

We all heard repeatedly that the song was a “journey,” and how the printed page was “just a starting point.” I assure you that this is not news to my students. What might have been helpful would have been to explore the specific journey of a few of the songs, to guide the students through the creative process of making choices, and to help them to internalize and manifest those choices.

In sum:

It's not that the advice given wasn't true - it was simply banal. It’s very condescending to assume that these students are not interested in expression because they’re opera singers."

"We should never put our students in a position where they are made to feel ashamed of their gifts. We are training our singers to sing resonantly and let their creative energy explode. This is what they need to do in the profession they are trying to enter.

The day ended better than it began: the Vocal Arts students--including several that had been in the "master" class--put on a 70-minute show called “Shall We Dance” in which they sang and hoofed their way through a wide repertoire of popular music. Under the direction of Jeanne Hime, the cast showed such ease with themselves--their physicality and their voices. Everyone in the room felt it: this was the best possible antidote to the afternoon’s effronteries."

When Steve and I talked about this today, he reminded me that one of the most important things to get across is that we should not believe the whitewashed reports in the press. Something that we media-savvy people think we know, but of which almost all of us need to be reminded.

That's All, Folks

I'm sure I'll succumb to the temptation to address this topic again, but for now, it's all the time I have to spend on it. I'll be offline for several days, posting again by the middle of next week. By then I'll be able to be specific about some of the repertoire and projects we've put in place for next summer's opera season. One Mozart (not a huge surprise, I realize, but particularly important since he's celebrating a big birthday in 2006), one Rossini, and one baroque opera (but not Handel!).

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Hot Topic

Receiving even more feedback and comments on the master class discussion, and yesterday's entry saw a significant increase in readership (about 1,500 hits for the day). Clearly it’s a hot button for people on both sides of the fence.

I’ll jump back in tomorrow for a final post on the topic. Then I’m putting up the heat shield and getting out.


A comment a few days ago from a “Non-Anonymous Opera-Singing Blogger” has prodded me to address a subject I sidestepped last week when I mentioned Canadienne’s blog. The Canadienne is a soprano who writes about the opera business from the perspective of a new professional singer, and she does so with humor, self-deprecation, insightfulness and honesty.

The news is that she is taking a hiatus from writing. As you can imagine, there’s an array of reasons for this decision.

A Fool’s Errand?

Regular blogging, while not without its rewards, can be exhausting. We who do it are generally not writing for a living, and blogging gets done in our spare time. It’s a monster that demands to be fed. I’ve climbed onto this train for a year, and I’m determined to see it through. But regular posting can become a chore.

There’s more, though. Canadienne is feeling besieged. She says she feels overexposed, and that every note she sings is now subject to the criticism of every reader. By their own design, performers are on public display. But a surprisingly small percentage of them are exhibitionist at heart. Many are among the most private individuals I know.

Has Canadienne invited criticism by speaking openly in a public forum? I’m sure she knew what she was doing. And I’m equally sure she wasn’t looking to train the spotlight on her performances, but to empathize with colleagues, to offer useful information for students who might aspire to a singing career, and possibly to allow audiences to gain perspective on the often non-glamorous life of a successful soprano.

Singers and actors feel criticism more deeply than many other kinds of artists. Their instruments are their bodies. Their tools are their eyes, their throats, their lungs, their muscles. And it’s an act of courage – almost defiance – to allow anyone with internet access to share their destructive comments about your recent performance with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Although I haven’t named the Canadienne (in keeping with her blog profile), her identity isn’t difficult to figure out. She’s hardly anonymous. And she’s thinking about changing that. Will it make her contribution less valuable? Probably not. Will it make it more difficult for her to write about what really matters? Undoubtedly so.


I’ve been asked if I believe that singers who blog are creating a career liability for themselves. The answer is, of course: It depends.

A friend who’s an amateur singer tells me that she follows several singer blogs, and that some are dangerously unprofessional. That’s a sure way to make enemies, and the jury’s still out as to how potentially harmful blog trash-talking can be.

We all apply filters, those of us who hope to be both professional and truthful. It is my intention to be honest – almost blunt – because I have a strong personal distaste for pretense. But uncharitable reactions, potentially destructive criticism, and raw controversial opinions have no place in public postings that refer to our professional lives.

I am not doing this anonymously. But even if you are, please consider that some of the same ‘filters’ should still apply. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and cyberspace is not a benign place. You may think you’re anonymous, but ours is a small and somewhat inbred business, and I’d be surprised if you could remain anonymous for long.

Every paragraph I write passes the following test. I imagine that I am reading it from the perspective of the following people: a colleague, an aspiring singer, an amateur musician, a classical music fan, and an arts patron. That doesn’t mean that every sentence is relevant to all readers, but it does assure that it’s not inflammatory. If important ideas don’t pass the test, they’re not jettisoned, just reframed.

Why Bother?

Political bloggers get most of the attention, but arts blogging is exploding. Mainstream media are marginalizing arts coverage, and what little gets through is frighteningly skewed. There’s so little opportunity for public discourse.

Other bloggers’ writings have revolutionized my professional life. In 20 minutes a day I feel as if I can stay in touch with some of the most important ideas and relevant news in my business. Sure, I’m selective about what I read, but the selectivity is of my own making, and I’m not forced onto a steady diet of one or two paid music critics. I work in a fairly isolated environment in a small suburban town, I prefer to spend most of my free time with my family, and I’m not a naturally gregarious person. So it’s pretty easy for me to get out of touch.

Our music will stay vital only if we keep the debate alive and invite everyone to the party. We need a diversity of opinions, a sprinkling of spirited disagreements, and lots of room for impassioned responses to the music. Disagreement and heated discussion are good for our music. I want to argue about last weekend’s live concert or opera broadcast the way dedicated sports fans go at it about their favorite teams. We will thrive on almost anything except neglect, apathy, and mute acceptance.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Things Are Not Always What They Seem

Barbara Cook’s Master Class – A Response

As they say, I should’ve been there. And since I wasn’t, I shouldn’t have assumed.

Two days ago, I interpreted a New York Times account of Barbara Cook’s master class at Juilliard through my own particular lens of experience and expectation. Why? I believe so firmly in what I took to be the ultimate goal of this class that I made the error of assuming that the method was sound.

I’ve since heard from some of the participants and observers of that class, and now is the time to retract, reframe, and review.


I’m wary and mistrustful of the hidden agendas of public master class exercises. Somehow, I thought – or perhaps hoped – that this class was an exception. Its goals, as least as seen through the lens of the reporter, seemed unassailable. But since learning more about what happened that day, I realized that my naiveté got the best of me.

Eye-witness accounts inform me that there was a generous helping of “tough love” (bordering on abusive) tactics. Responses like “You sing with the kind of diction that really puts me off” and “No one really talks like that; what do you think you’re trying to do?” and “What is that smile doing there? That is totally phony”.

I’m not strictly against using mildly confrontational language in the right time and place. It’s important to be unafraid to tackle the elephant in the room. When working with singers with whom you have a relationship of trust, and in an environment where artists feel secure enough to venture out of their comfort zone, it’s possible for a “tough love” approach to have lasting benefits. But in a public place, when the balance of power is as skewed as it is in a master class…. Things are learned, but too often, they’re not about performing or communicating.

Playing the Game

What happens when the obedient student feels threatened by the respected Master’s comments? Many of them have done enough master classes to know that you have to play the game according to its particular rules. Roll with the punches. Be dutiful. The star will emerge triumphant, a short-term goal will be attained, and the audience will respond positively.

Some comments from Juilliard artists who were involved with this master class:

The greatest injury was done to the singers, who were not given liberty to express themselves, but devolved into ironically artificial sentimentality in a necessary concession to win over Cook and her adoring fans, and in so doing, betrayed their own truth. They played the game to get through the master class, and they were rewarded for being less than themselves.

The game we played was "opera singer who is only concerned about making sound is taught about communication"… And, predictably, the comments from patrons at the reception afterwards [were] ‘You should sing like that all the time’...I learned that if I take all the resonance out of my voice and sing to the woman in the fourth row, I’m a genius.


Why such reactionary and bitter comments? I will say, for those of you who haven’t been on the inside of these kinds of things, that these reactions are fairly typical. Naysayers will maintain that these are shallow self-protective responses from nervous young people.

I know some of these people, and I disagree. Yes, they are half Ms. Cook’s age with a fraction of her experience. But they are thoughtful, self-critical, imaginative, and committed to communicating through their music. And consider this: If singers feel they have to retreat to such a defensive posture, what could they possibly learn?


I’ve said that dealing with technique (vocal production, placement, projection, etc) is dangerous and destructive content for a master class. And I still mean it. But it seems that in this particular situation, it would’ve been a good idea to constructively address the challenge of aligning operatic vocal technique (read: the ability to fill a big hall) with the directness and economy of communication needed for musical theatre songs.

Again, from the participants:

Equating authenticity with the ‘abandonment of technical propriety’ only reinforces the mistaken perception that musical theater is from Mars and opera is from Venus, when the message ostensibly is that honesty of communication is requisite in all art forms… Telling ‘classically trained singers’ that their education leads to artificiality is likely to be neither successful nor meaningful for them.

[Ms. Cook’s] method of extracting ‘communication’ from me was having me pare down my instrument to a mere filament (perfect for a miked performance, really), getting rid of my stultified diction and having me sing to the woman in the 4th row. Yes, there was some communication that went on. The medium was all wrong.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Do I still believe in some of things I wrote Sunday? You bet I do.

I quoted Ms. Cook: “The place that seems most dangerous is exactly where safety lies.” But the caveat is that none of us knows where that place is for another artist. If we lead them blindly in any direction, just for the sake of variety or experimentation, we’re likely to lead them even farther astray. That ‘place’ is unique to each singer, and the answer doesn’t lie in stripping away his technique, but in using it to create a relationship with the music, with the words, with the audience.

Am I even more jaded now about the firmly entrenched diva approach to these classes? Didn’t think it was possible, but… yes.

Is it still more important than ever to throw away artifice and caution and dare to revel in the risks and rewards of live performance? Of course.

Singing Bloggers

Scroll down to the bottom of Sunday’s entry for a message from a “Singing Blogger”. S/he asks some important questions, not all of which I pretend to have the answers to. But I’ll give it a whirl in a day or two.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sacred Monsters and Nice Guys

Master classes are many-headed monsters. I've seen very few that deliver significant results and even fewer that purport to be about what they say they are. But according to Sunday's New York Times, it sounds as if Barbara Cook is using this format to do important work with young singers.

The master classes that are really star turns for divas (or divos, thank you very much) or other ego-driven individuals are often destructive. I won't go so far as to believe that they're malicious in intent. But they often revolve around vocal/technical issues that are unwisely addressed in 15 minutes in front of hundreds of people. And there are hidden agendas that are counter-productive, to say the least.

Ms. Cook tells singers that "Your own humanity is your pathway to artistry." But any performer will tell you that allowing one's humanity to speak through the music is threatening and risky. And most of the training that we foist upon young singers is designed to reduce risk. As it should be. After all, there has to be a foundation. But somewhere, somehow, that essential risk must be honored.

She tells them "The place that seems most dangerous is exactly where safety lies." In futher elaboration by Times writer Charles Isherwood: "...self-exposure and the abandonment of technical propriety, scary as it was, was the surest, the best, maybe the only way to communicate with an audience."

Sacred Monsters

It's easy for us to see this phenomenon in opera's stereotypical and often dysfunctional diva culture. (Those same divas who insist on torturing students in master classes:)) These are people who live on the edge, who thrive on risk, danger, and confrontation. They strike fear in the hearts of mild-mannered administrators such as myself, and they find worthy sparring partners in the form of strong-willed impresarios. They have thrived in opera's culture almost from its beginning.

We, the audience, crave their potency and intensity. The art form itself consists of simple ideas, emotions, and truths that are so saturated that they be stretched out over a 3-hour opera and still speak to us. Our artists cannot pale beside this vivid material. The opera culture has always welcomed these larger-than-life creatures, and they have found a home there.

Nice Guys

There will always be divas and sacred monsters in our business. But as we strive to bring opera into the mainstream and to allow the education of our next generation of singers to be less haphazard (dare I say more thorough and linear...) we welcome a higher percentage of aspiring performers who just may be slightly less neurotic and self-destructive than many of their predecessors. Are we selling these young artists a bill of goods? We say, "Be respectful colleagues, run your singing business conscientiously, moderate your lifestyle and take judicious care of your instrument, be a 'well-rounded' person." When was the last time you paid over $100 for a front orchestra seat to hear a careful and cautious performer?

I've veered slightly past my goal in order to make a point. Do I want the performers of tomorrow to be destructive to others and dangerous to themselves? Of course not. But we should lose no opportunity to remind them never to lose their connection to that part of themselves that is so potent and laser-focused that it will speak to someone in the back row. We all have it somewhere inside us. In the 21st century we're all increasingly good at tamping it down. Technology and mass culture are its enemies. Live performance - the opportunity to allow another person and his connection to the music to touch us - will keep us connected to our humanity.

Up on the Roof

Many years ago, when we were younger and climbing on the roof every December seemed like a reasonable thing to do, we unwittingly established a Christmas decoration tradition. A few years ago we decided to take a year off, and by the week before Christmas we had strangers knocking on our door, making sure that we were all OK, that no one in the house was sick or anything. Why else would we miss putting up our lights?

Anyway, the weather hasn't cooperated this year. Cold, windy, and snowy since Thanksgiving. But yesterday found us up on the top of the house, grumbling just a little. Shoveling and sweeping snow off the roof before fighting with the damn strings of lights. Bah humbug.

Today my back aches but I know why we did it. No matter your religious, metaphysical or philosophical perspective, it's hard to deny that as we head toward next week's solstice, we need light.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Repertoire & Casting

But First….

I have to weigh in on the veritable snowstorm of reporting and critiquing that’s been done on last weekend’s premiere of Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy at the Met. I was not lucky enough to see it, but I am looking forward to hearing it on the December 24 broadcast. Thanks to An Unamplified Voice for culling many of the various reviews of this premiere.

I’m not a critic, and I’m perpetually bemused, confused, and occasionally angered by reviews. (Go here for last summer’s entry on the subject of our artists and reviews.) Like many of my colleagues, I’ve lived this question on multiple levels. I’ve been the producer who’s received more credit than she should take, and I’ve been the artist who received more blame that she should shoulder. And every variation in between. And of course, because I’m active in this business, I’m constantly asked for my opinion of others’ performances.

I find one thing heartening about the American Tragedy discussion: the fact that it’s happening at all. While I’m at it, I guess I also appreciate the fact that so many people are wading in. For the purpose of all of this is engagement. I’m not sure I care what form that engagement takes, as long as it’s active. It’s a beautiful thing to move beyond apathy, blind acceptance, or uninformed rejection.

I’m getting dangerously close to digressing to the “what is art and why does it matter” discussion, and I can’t afford that diversion today. But I so want this engagement with the music to be the reason we go to the opera house and the concert hall. The music of pop culture (and here I don’t mean anything that’s not “classical”; I refer to any music that’s more about its trappings than its content) is an anesthetic. Pleasant in the way it numbs us and distracts us from the tough stuff in life. What we do in our business needs to be about “aesthetics” in the best sense of the word – not having to do with high culture or good taste, but standing as an alternative to the anesthetic effect of so much of 21st century mass culture. It should make us feel, think, laugh, cry, rage… it should make us care.

Oops, I’m pretty far gone. Back to work.


Many young folks who aspire to a career in artistic administration have a single-minded focus on one aspect of the job: Casting. No surprise, really, for creating dream casts is a fairly common hobby for opera fans. Also no surprise that fantasy can clash pretty horribly with reality when actual casts are being assembled for productions in the real world. But the most sobering fact is that those of us who oversee opera companies spend a very small percentage of our time on this aspect of our operations. The last two weeks of my life have been consumed with matching singers to roles, but it’s almost done, and there are another 50 weeks of the year to go.

I get a lot of questions about our casting process, so I will do my best to spin it out. I’ll try to keep it from getting tedious. But a certain amount of deadly detail is necessary in order to represent the process accurately and to disabuse readers of the notion that this is a glamorous undertaking.

As I mentioned at the end of the audition tour, we had 29 finalists who were under consideration for our company. At this point, it looks as if we’re going to be able to work with 18 or 19 of those singers next summer.

The Repertoire Recipe

1) Make a list of operas that contain ideal roles for our finalists (in operas that can actually be produced in one of our very specific venues).

2) Create a master list of the operas above that contain good roles for multiple people. (Jettison pieces that accomodate only a few singers.)

3) Make a series of draft grids that puts the casting of three of these operas alongside the casting needs of next season’s concerts, recitals, and/or outreach performances. I have started out with as many as 30 of these grids, using different permutations and orders of a series of different operas.

The final grid for the 2005 season looked like this:

4) See which ones of these permutations accommodate the largest percentage of the finalists in roles that are best suited to them.

5) Choose the most promising few and do an entire season draft schedule that describes in detail how the assignments might dovetail and how the summer calendar might be able to configured in order to present the smallest amount of conflicts between projects.

A page from this year’s grid. Pink = second Barns opera; orange = Filene Center opera; blue = NSO concert; yellow = recital; purple = improv project.

My head hurts from trying to explain this, so I think I’m done. Taking the weekend off from posting – see you next week from the studios of WETA-FM as we record a few more installments of 2006 Center Stage from Wolf Trap.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Winter comes to these Vienna Woods.

The view outside my office window. Gotta love it.


The fellow bloggers I check in on when I have time:

Arts & Culture

The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross)
ArtsJournal Sandow (Greg Sandow on the Future of Classical Music)
About Last Night (Terry Teachout on the Arts in New York City)
Deceptively Simple (A blog by Chicago music journalist Marc Geelhoed)
Night after Night (Conspicuous consumption of music, live and otherwise, in New York City)
Ionarts (Music, Art, Literature: Washington DC-based)

Arts Management

The Artful Manager (Andrew Taylor on the Business of Arts and Culture)
Adaptistration (Drew McManus on Orchestra Management)
Butts in the Seats (Musings on Practical Solutions For Arts Management)


Canadienne (Canadian soprano living and singing in Chicago) [Note: She's beginning a sabbatical, unfortunately. But check out previous posts if you are so inclined.]
An Unamplified Voice (One Operagoer’s Notes)
Brian Dickie (Life as General Director of Chicago Opera Theater)


A great source of pleasure. OperaMan is one of my favorites, of course. Looking for an unusual Christmas gift? Check out StoryPeople’s prints. (This is an unsolicited plug:))

Back in a Few Days

Almost all off-topic today. Can you tell I need a break?

Taking the day off tomorrow. From everything. Back blogging Thursday or Friday. Promise (really, I do!) a description of our casting/programming process. Without real names and dates yet, for they’re still not fixed. But we’ll walk you through what we’re doing right now. Check back if you’re interested.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Filene Center – The Venn Diagram...

Any questions?

Report on Holiday Festivities

Wolf Trap’s Holiday Sing-Along was terrific. Thousands and thousands of people… hundreds of little children on the stage during "Jingle Bells”… good December weather… a huge truck filled to the brim with Toys for Tots. Unfortunately, I sang myself out and was in tatters for the second event of the day, the Messiah Sing-Along at my church where I was due to stand in for our contralto soloist who is battling bronchitis.

Explanation required. I am not a singer, strictly speaking, but occasionally I haul my voice around pretty fearlessly, and I’ve absorbed enough basic information about intonation, phrasing, and placement to unwisely twist my garden-variety soprano into an imitation of a mezzo. It’s not a healthy vocal production, and it doesn’t hold up well after an hour of leading carols in freezing weather. Anyway, I sounded like a cross between Carol Channing and Rod Stewart. Huge hole on both sides of the bottom register break. Any salvageable music came out of it was a minor triumph of chutzpah over talent. (Or, as my friend the sick contralto reminds me, it required “more guts than sense.”) :) All of this, of course, was designed to give me true empathy for all those singers in my life.

Shop Talk – Leftovers from the Audition Trail

Résumés – a few more observations:

  • Layout. The column format is time-tested and unassailable. We can look at each engagement singly, or we can skim down columns of companies, roles, and dates.
  • Dates. Please list engagements in reverse chronological order. Especially because we deal with artists who are still developing, it’s important to be able to see growth and momentum.
  • “Career Objective”. Don’t bother trying to include an “Objective”. I know that it’s part of the process when applying or interviewing for a lot of other kinds of jobs, but it’s really hard to include it on a singer résumé without sounding silly. Lots of effort could go into trying to figure out how to state the objective clearly. Don’t bother.
  • Colleagues/References. Only list people who would be able to speak easily on your behalf. Name-dropping doesn’t really work if they don’t remember you.

Random Aria Advice for Sopranos:

  • Adele’s Audition Aria. Extraordinarily hard to bring off. Almost always harmless and stultifyingly boring. You have to be a phenomenally gifted comedienne to make an impression with this in audition. Those “la-la-la’s” (you know which ones I mean) have to be to die for.
  • Manon’s Gavotte. Consider only singing one iteration of “Profitons bien” (instead of the two that are written). Brings the scene down to about 4 minutes. Might make the difference and get you a second aria if the audition time frame is tight.

Tomorrow - back to casting!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Interlude: 'Tis the Season

Taking a break from talking about opera at the Filene Center. Today happened not to be all about opera, so the blog will reflect!

‘Tis the Season

Friday, 12/ 2/2005 – A typical arts administrator December day:

Morning – “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty”. Rehearsal with the Marine Band for this weekend’s Holiday Sing-Along at the Filene Center. Yours truly will be co-hosting – leading the singing and trying to contribute witty banter.

Afternoon – Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Programming and marketing ideas for next summer’s National Symphony Orchestra line-up.

Evening – Couperin and Rameau. French Baroque music of the season with the Aulos Ensemble at The Barns.

Shop Talk – More Audition Pianist Rants

During the lunch break at the Cincinnati stop on the audition tour, Donna Loewy, Thomas Lausmann and I decided to expand the audition pianist advice I offered in an earlier post. We figured that we have at least 75 years of accompanist duty among the three of us, so our pet peeves probably have some staying power.

  • Cuts. A follow-up to my previous advisory. Don’t just mark the cut clearly with pen; rather white out all of the irrelevant music with post-its or white paper.
  • Xeroxes. If you travel with copies in a binder, please make sure they’re first-generation copies. Nothing worse than trying to read grayed-out notes in dim rehearsal room lighting.
  • Cadenzas. Whenever possible, write out your cadenzas. It’s sometimes unnerving to guess when you’re headed toward the final cadence.
  • Double-sided. Half as many page turns.
  • Staples. Exposed staples in the center binding are a rare but serious hazard. As a last resort, pianists will press down the center fold to make a book stay open. Each one of us has ended up bleeding on the keyboard after a run-in with center staples.
  • Clean copies. Get rid of old pianist fingerings (fingerings from previous pianists, not fingerings from elderly pianists. Sorry... :)
  • Tempo indications. As I mentioned before, it almost never works to conduct or clap to demonstrate your tempo. And comparative instructions (faster, slower…) are useless without a baseline. What does work, however, is putting a ballpark M.M. (metronome) marking on your music. Pianists aren’t human metronomes, but most of us have a pretty good feel for M.M. markings.
  • Pages in backwards. Or upside down. Or not there at all. You laugh. It happens.

In the Audience

Back to the French baroque. I had some trouble acclimating to tonight’s concert. Took me almost half an hour. Not that it wasn’t marvelous in every way. Aulos played with spirit, virtuosity, and heart. And some of this music was cutting edge in its time. It’s just that in order to reframe the experience, it always takes me a while to enter into that sonic world.

Truth be told, the colors, harmonies, and rhythms of this music occupy fairly narrow and fairly conservative bandwidth to our 21st-century ears. In order for this music to speak to us, we have to enter its world. Once we do, its rewards are many. Until we do, it’s marginalized.

Musicians’ Love-Hate Relationship with December

From tonight’s holiday baroque concert to Sunday afternoon’s sing-along to a Sunday evening Messiah (Advent portion only, thank heaven.), it’s a typical start to a musician’s December. My email messages from colleagues are full of Nutcrackers and Messiah’s, with the occasional Christmas Oratorio, Ceremony of Carols or Amahl and the Night Visitors thrown in.
Freelance musicians love it because it pays the bills, hate it because it steals personal time during a season that purports to be about families. Someday we’ll get legislation introduced that re-schedules a Musicians’ Christmas in March. :)